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Nine-Run Inning Propels CS Christian To Regional Final

Eric Hepple struck out seven over five shutout innings.

Westminster Academy and Coral Springs Christian staged a pitchers’ duel through four and a half innings in Tuesday’s 3A regional semifinal with runs looking as if they might be at a premium.

Then came the bottom of the fifth.

That’s when the Crusaders’ offense exploded for nine runs, leading to a mercy rule 10-0 victory over the Lions, their District 14 comrades.

“First couple of innings, we were a little undisciplined, but I told them let’s string together some good at-bats,” Crusaders Manager Matt Cleveland said. “Again, we got some huge hits with two strikes, and it just kind of snowballed from there.”

An avalanche would be a more appropriate description of the inning as every Coral Springs Christian (22-7) starter but one crossed the plate, with Luis Leal scoring twice despite not getting a hit. His final, game-ending run came on a throwing error.

Up until the fifth, Lions lefty starter Weston Clemente, a 10-game winner, and righty Eric Hepple matched each other almost pitch for pitch as neither one clearly wanted to end up on the losing end in this crucial contest. Hepple ended up allowing just four hits over five shutout innings with eight strikeouts and only one walk.

Weston Clemente pitched well until the fifth inning.

The Crusaders finally opened the scoring in the fourth inning, Touki Toussaint led off with a double down the left-field line and then moved over to third on a Benito Santiago fly out. Cary Boniske then pulled a single through the left side to score Toussaint, who was the designated hitter instead of pitcher as he was coming off a couple of outings on short rest.

Toussaint, who went 3-for-3, started the barrage in the fifth when, with one out, he showed off his skills at the plate by going opposite field for another double. Up stepped Hepple, looking to help himself. He did just that, driving home two runs with a golfed single to left-center. Santiago then came home on a wild pitch to make it 4-0, before Boniske came through again, this time with an RBI double down the left-field line.

That was it for Clemente, but reliever Trace Norkus didn’t fare any better. A Joseph Depalo RBI single through the right side made it 6-0, and then James Buckley crushed a drive to right-center that almost left the park. He would have to be happy with a two-run double instead. Buckley scored on a wild pitch a couple of batters later, followed by Leal to end the game.

“The big hits we had were up the middle and the opposite way, which is good to see,” Cleveland said. “Hepple is a bulldog, and it’s good to have a guy like him. He threw a lot of strikes, and our defense played well. It was a good day.”

Touki Toussaint went 3-for-3 with two doubles and two runs.

“I established my slider early with a new technique I just worked on yesterday real hard,” said Hepple, who said he was following through more under his opposite armpit than straight down. “I was working on it in the bullpen and it worked again and moving more, so I just stuck with it.”

Westminster Manager Nick James was understandably disappointed in the way his team’s season ended, but he had positive thoughts on the season as a whole.

“This was a tremendous season. We finished 21-8 in what I think is one of the more competitive districts in the state,” James said. “I thought our guys were competitive all year long, and I’m proud of them.

“Weston gave us all he had and kept it tight for a while. We felt runs would be at a premium. We just didn’t take our opportunities, and you can’t give a good team like that as many opportunities as we did.”

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